NAUVOO TO WARSAW
We packed up our things and made our way to the Red Front for the launch.
Our destination today was Warsaw, Illinois, but first order of business was a nice morning conversation with Sharon and Larry, and another fabulous breakfast to top it off of course.
Tom ran south along the most scenic stretch of the Mississippi River (at least that’s what the locals told us.) It was beautiful! We were right next to the river almost the entire way. No railroad – just water lilies separating us from the main channel. Lots of water lillies.
Mayor Mike and wife Diane met us at Ralston park. We were planning to run in with a local runner (Tim), but things don’t always work out as planned . . .
After introductions we went into town for lunch at Jennifer’s Family Restaurant. Grilled chicken salad and Maid Rite sandwiches. Rogene, the Mayor’s sister and our host for the night, met us there. The mayor and his wife indulged in two nice slices of coconut pie and then picked up the tab before we headed back to Ralston Park to meet with our interview subjects for the day.
At the park we met up with Martha, Doug and his wife Mary, as well Doug’s brother Ron. A local friend named Smitty also joined us. Doug and Ron come from a family of five brothers who all love fishing the river. They mostly catch catfish and also sturgeon for the eggs. They fish with multi-hook “jump lines” which is another word for “trot lines”. Mary and Doug were out fishing the morning we met, and Mary says she caught the largest fish. There was some dispute about this.
According to the brothers, Asian carp are prevalent south of the dam, also over-running the Illinois River. This is the first we’ve really heard of the infiltration Asian carp, leading to the walleye and bait fish populations being down. The situation is becoming quite an issue, as are the 20 foot channels shrinking to 2 feet—at least as the brothers report. This is leading to the abundance of lily pads and water Lillie’s with the shallow water, now extending far out from the Illinois shore.
As the conversation circled round, everyone testified to how there used to be more here in Warsaw, but now it’s just Casey’s and Dollar General. The downtown is crumbling, many of the buildings made of “soft brick,” Martha said, having outlived their lifespan, not worth being restored or salvaged.
There are fewer and fewer young families in town, but as we sat at Ralston Park, we saw several kids on bikes and young families occupy playground equipment. They were enjoying the day. Everyone we were with said that they feel safe here.
Later we met with Joe Bartholomew, a local chemist with multiple interests that have led him down the rabbit hole of curiosity in these parts. Joe was given his first arrowhead at age 10 or 12 years old and he was hooked on archeology and history ever since. He still has the arrowhead. He has worked in river industries all his life, in his profession as chemist dealing specifically with water quality.
His family story is tied to the river’s story with his brother playing the first Huck Finn in Hannibal and his dad working as a professional magician on the river boats. Joe told us about the two forts that were built near Warsaw – Fort Johnson and Fort Edwards.
He has done a lot of archeological investigation to determine the exact locations of these historic sites, and after many efforts to get state scientists out to verify the sites, he has succeeded. As Joe says, this was the edge of the frontier in 1812, and it’s a piece of history that shouldn’t be lost: https://www.isas.illinois.edu/…/public_partne…/warsaw_forts/
Our formal interviews were over, so Martha took us on a driving tour of the “scenic splendor” of Warsaw. Apparently the town used to be called Spunky Point, but someone got the idea that Warsaw sounded more upstanding. Who’d of thought?! Later that evening back at Ralston Park, we shared stories with Lester, Jennifer from the restaurant, Joe and his wife Cathy were also there, as well as Mary, Diane, the Mayor, and others.
After the gathering at the park, we swung through the Brewery just to check it out. It’s a popular spot. Live music was filling the outdoor air thanks to Joe and Cathy’s son, the drummer for the band. From there we headed back to Rogene’s to enjoy some pie and meet her beau, farmer Gerald. They knew each other back in high school but went separate ways, and now after both having lost their spouses, they’ve rediscovered each other. Gerald even has Rogene attending farm shows in Decatur—definitely outside her norm. And Rogene has Gerald wintering in Texas, a feat to get this farmer away from his land for three months.
We could have chatted into the night, but as usual, our internal alarms were telling us otherwise. So we marched down into the basement and said our good nights yet another time.